Adventus

"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"It is impossible for me to say in my book one word about all that music has meant in my life. How then can I hope to be understood?--Ludwig Wittgenstein

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Just Us!


When I hear about this:

A 6-year-old Grant County boy has been accused of first-degree sexual assault after playing "doctor" with two 5-year-old friends.
And then consider that we have the highest percentage of our population in prison of any country in the world, I don't think this case is simply a problem of overzealous prosecution or "freaking out" about kids.

First, because it doesn't show up in the linked article, one relevant fact about why the "inappropriate touching" occurred:

"D" is 6-year-old child who previous to the alleged criminal act in issue, had medical issues that necessitated rectal examinations by medical personnel.
"D" is the child being charged with a felony. The girl involved told authorities they were playing "butt doctor," and no penetration occurred.

There is a political aspect to this case (plenty of info on that in the petition and elsewhere); but what interests me is the idea of criminalizing the behavior of others.

The parents of "D" are outraged at a six-year old being treated like a criminal, and well they should be. But who thinks a criminal prosecution of a six-year old is appropriate under any circumstances, and why? Well, apparently, people with the power to prosecute in a country where incarceration has increased 500% over the past 30 years (roughly the same time period that wages have stagnated for 80% of the population while rising for 20% of the population. Coincidence?) We have turned to criminal prosecutions to cure a variety of ills, so it's almost no surprise we would now criminalize "playing doctor" between small children.

Does it seem extreme to link this stupid case to the problem of incarceration? Well, some of this story is of a piece with the national story about prosecutions. Prosecutors love convictions, and not just because they hate criminals. Prosecutors, as this story amply shows, are political animals (not all politicians make sensible decisions in the name of politics). And this prosecutor, like many, obviously doesn't yet want to admit this prosecution is a mistake, or that a 6 year old boy is not an adult.

[L]egal scholars looking at the issue suggest that prosecutors’ concerns about their political future and a culture that values winning over justice also come into play. “They are attached to their convictions,” Garrett says, “and they don’t want to see their work called into question.”
That's from a NYTimes story about convictions being overturned by DNA evidence, and what lengths prosecutors will go to in order to protect their records. Prosecutors are political animals, and in a culture that values not just winning, but criminalizing behavior and punishing people with prison sentences, isn't it just a matter of time until that attitude is applied to children?

This prosecution is vile, rancid, egregious, and indefensible. As the attorneys for the parents point out:

"[The experts say] a 6-year-old child is unable to intellectually and emotionally associate sexual gratification with the act that D has been accused of committing," Cooper said....
And as they note in their lawsuit, a six year old boy is simply incapable of forming the mens rea (guilty intent, basically) necessary to charge him with a felony. That is simply hornbook law: without the mens rea, the act is not criminal. This is the basis for the "insanity defense" in some crimes: if the defendant didn't have the mental capability to form a criminal intent (if, for example, in a delusional state the defendant was killing in self-defense), there is no crime. Of course, for murder suspects who are "not guilty by reason of insanity," there is treatment instead of jail time. But six-year olds are not guilty by reason of the fact they are incapable of forming criminal intent, at least as regards a crime of sexual assault. This is why children are not charged like adults, or treated criminally like adults. It is absurd to charge a child with such an offense. But is it of a piece with the society we've become in the past 30 years? Do we feel so out of control that we are mad to be in control of someone, anyone? Chris Hayes opined over the weekend that if we see a loss of the "American Dream" (the idea that we will be better off than our parents), our politics would go bonkers.

I'm still wondering why he said: "If".

Sunday, November 27, 2011

First Sunday of Advent 2011


Isaiah 64:1-9
64:1 O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence--

64:2 as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil-- to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence!

64:3 When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.

64:4 From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him.

64:5 You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways. But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed.

64:6 We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.

64:7 There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity.

64:8 Yet, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.

64:9 Do not be exceedingly angry, O LORD, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people.

Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19

80:1 Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock! You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth

80:2 before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh. Stir up your might, and come to save us!

80:3 Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.

80:4 O LORD God of hosts, how long will you be angry with your people's prayers?

80:5 You have fed them with the bread of tears, and given them tears to drink in full measure.

80:6 You make us the scorn of our neighbors; our enemies laugh among themselves.

80:7 Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.

80:17 But let your hand be upon the one at your right hand, the one whom you made strong for yourself.

80:18 Then we will never turn back from you; give us life, and we will call on your name.

80:19 Restore us, O LORD God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.

1 Corinthians 1:3-9
1:3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

1:4 I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus,

1:5 for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind--

1:6 just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you--

1:7 so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.

1:8 He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

1:9 God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Mark 13:24-37
13:24 "But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light,

13:25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

13:26 Then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in clouds' with great power and glory.

13:27 Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

13:28 "From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near.

13:29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates.

13:30 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.

13:31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

13:32 "But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

13:33 Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.

13:34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch.

13:35 Therefore, keep awake--for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn,

13:36 or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly.

13:37 And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake."

"Advent" means "arrival," and every year the arrival of the new church year begins with the end of all things. Which is also about as close as the church allows itself to get anymore to talk about God's judgment. It's a curious way to begin things, to say the least.

Speaking of curious, take a moment to consider these words of Isaiah:

But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed.

We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.

There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity.
Not the usual "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" description of sin we are used to. This is not a God who pushed the sinners away because they were unclean; they became unclean, says Isaiah, because God pushed them away. It's a curious thing about the descriptions of God in the Hebrew Scriptures: it's almost always a description of a relationship, rather than of a judgmental almost-unmoved Mover who responds only to failure. God's anger, says Isaiah, caused Israel to sin; God's absence caused Israel to do wrong.

Why don't we think of God that way? Where did we get this Christian idea that God only exists to judge us, and we are only saved from judgment because of Jesus? And our only relationship to God is to stand before God in judgment, a judgment which is hidden from us until the end of time?

It's an odd thing; we Christians insist God is "Father," but we then treat God like an absent, quasi-abusive, almost adoptive, father. We ask for things from God. What we don't look for is a relationship with God; except as God is going to make us happier and happier. Which means: what?

Well, consider the psalm, too:


Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock! You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth

before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh. Stir up your might, and come to save us!

Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.

O LORD God of hosts, how long will you be angry with your people's prayers?

You have fed them with the bread of tears, and given them tears to drink in full measure.

You make us the scorn of our neighbors; our enemies laugh among themselves.

Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.

But let your hand be upon the one at your right hand, the one whom you made strong for yourself.

Then we will never turn back from you; give us life, and we will call on your name.

Restore us, O LORD God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.
This is a plea. But it's not a plea for a new job, or a good bargain on Black Friday, or even better weather or a mended economy. It's a plea for relationship. It's a plea for God to come and join us and restore us and return to us. God's return would mend Israel. God's return would restore Israel. God's relationship with Israel is what matters most to Israel.

We are not Israel. What would God's return mean to us? What would God's advent mean to us?

"Advent" means "Arrival." It's the moment we all dread, when family shows up for Thanksgiving or for Christmas, and they threaten to stay longer than we can bear to put up with them. And then they arrive, and maybe it's not so bad after all; and then maybe it is, and when are they going to leave again? We don't expect family to make us happy. But we don't want them to make us miserable, either. We expect family to be related to us, and we expect to have a relationship with them, even if it's one we don't really want. The absence of family makes us sad; and perhaps even strange. It makes us lonely, and cut off. It makes us feel abandoned, even if we never knew a good family. Advent means arrival. It is the moment we are all waiting for, even if we are not waiting for it.

What would it be like to have a relationship with God, instead of to simply expect things from God? Who would God be then?

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind--just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you--so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
The adventus always seems to speak in apocalyptic tones: fire burning wood and mighty warriors coming to save the people. Always a final proof, a final redemption, an end to suffering and doubt. Paul instead speaks of grace and peace that come from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. "Our Father." Do grace and peace come from our Father? Do they come from God? Or do comfort and benefits and all the good things we value more and more and more in this American life? What would grace and peace be? Where would we sell them in the marketplace? Or are they not commodities, gifts given to us, but the results of a relationship, of knowing God as Father? In every way, says Paul, we are enriched in Christ Jesus: in speech and knowledge; and we are not lacking in any spiritual gift as we wait for the advent, the revealing of Christ as Lord. What do we do with these enrichments, these gifts? Do we even recognize them? Did we realize they were ours, already here, already given, no need for a Black Friday sale or a last-minute shopping frenzy on Christmas Eve? Did we even realize we were called into fellowship, the fellowship of Jesus Christ our Lord?

Do we know what that means?

Advent always begins with apocalypse, but we misunderstand that, too. "Apocalypse" is the Greek word, but it doesn't mean "disastrous end to all things" and "dreadful final judgment from which there is no appeal." It just means "revelation." "Lord, when did we see you?" is the apocalypse of the sheep and the goats, the moment just before the revelation when they realize someone was there and they didn't recognize them. Apocalypse is not when all things end in disaster; apocalypse is when you finally know the truth. But if the truth is that God has always been there, and you haven't been looking....?

Chris Hayes said this morning that if the American expectation that the next generation will do better than the prior generation comes to an end, it will mean a major revolution in our politics. What he meant was, it would create a crisis which would end in a completely unexpected outcome. The headline from Black Friday was that retail sales set a record. The other headlines were the assaults on shoppers by other shoppers, by thieves, and by store security; as well as the story of the man who collapsed to the floor with a heart attack, while other shoppers stepped around or over him, intent on getting the bargains they came for. The fact is, in the past 30 years the expectation that this generation would live better than the last has proven to be false. Statistics make it clear the next generations cannot possible live as well as their parents and grandparents, despite the ubiquity of iPads and cell phones. The decline has begun, we are already living in it, our society and our politics are already reflecting the crisis. This is what that crisis looks like, but if we cannot recognize it, how can we even know that summer is near? How do we know it's summer at all without a calendar and someone to tell us? Do we even read the signs of the times, or do we just expect it all to be explained to us by someone at sometime and in the meantime we are busy with living, or blogging, or watching TV, or keeping up with our families?

This is not a Christian nation, and this is not an argument for a Christian society. Reinhold Niebuhr and Soren Kierkegaard marked "paid" to both those concepts some time ago. The call is not for the nation to return to Christ but rather, like the Desert Fathers, perhaps to consider the wisdom of a tactical retreat, of abandonment as salvation, or at least as fleeing the sinking ship for the few available lifeboats. It is a call to consider radical alternatives.

What life have we if we have not life together? But what life have we if we don't even understand what "living" means? What life have we without relationships, but we do even understand what relationships are? Do we have a relationship with God? Or do we just expect something from God? In a relationship, the absence of someone from it means we are missing something, perhaps something that will keep us whole. If we just expect something, absence just means we haven't gotten anything lately; and surely we deserve another gift! But if we have a relationship with God, if we truly want God around simply because God is God, then we are always waiting for God to show up again. And what would that waiting look like? What would that kind of living look like? And what would happen if we recognized, not that God was going to show up someday and really up end things, but that God was already here? How would that challenge things as we know them? And do we even want it to?

Friday, November 25, 2011

MINE!! MINE! MINE! MINE! MINE! MINE!


The unofficial slogan of Black Friday. Why? Because:

A woman trying to improve her chance to buy cheap electronics at a Walmart in a wealthy suburb spewed pepper spray on a crowd of shoppers and 20 people suffered minor injuries, police said Friday.

The attack took place about 10:20 p.m. Thursday shortly after doors opened for the sale at the Walmart in Porter Ranch in the San Fernando Valley.

The store had brought out a crate of discounted Xbox video game players, and a crowd had formed to wait for the unwrapping, when the woman began spraying people "in order to get an advantage," police Sgt. Jose Valle said.
I live across the freeway from a "wealthty suburb." People from "that side" come over to the grocery store I shop at. I'm not surprised this happened where it did, and I imagine the person with the pepper spray made her getaway in a very expensive car. Whether she could still afford it or not, I can't say; but I'm guessing she lived nearby.

I understand at least one person was shot in the parking lot of another Wal-Mart, presumably a robbery attempt. Robberies I almost understand; at least they seem normal next to a customer taking out the competition with chemical weapons.

In Little Rock, Arkansas, close to the home of Wal-Mart, a riot over $2 waffle irons prompted Gawker to write that incident represented everything "awesome" about America, including the: "horrible economy, aggressive consumerism, mindless violence and a complete lack of concern for one's fellow human beings."

Jeremiah springs to mind in response to a day like this: "Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!" Or Isaiah; surely the people are grass. But those are both too big, too sweeping, too grand for this occasion. The prophets were responding to events of life and death, of exile and loss; this is just the death of spirit. This seems more like Jesus chasing the money changers out of the temple; except Wal-Mart is no temple, and neither are the cities of America.

I was prompted to think, today, about what religions teach, and two fundamental teachings came to mind: that if there is a meaning to life, it is to enjoy life, although how it is enjoyed is the teachings of that religion. The other is to care for your neighbor, your fellow man. Neither is on display here, although ostensibly the reason for the purchases and the midnight sales is a religious one.

Well, not really; never has been. But can we at least get Thanksgiving back?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving 2011


"We're all forgiven at Thanksgiving, and everybody's welcome at the feast."--Garrison Keillor

PRAISE AND HARVEST

Almighty God, our Heavenly Father, from whom cometh every good and pefect gift, we call to remembrance thy loving-kindness and the tender mercies which have been ever of old, and with grateful hearts we would lift up to thee the voice of our thanksgiving,

For all the gifts which thou hast bestowed upon us; for the life thou hast given us, and the world in which we live,
WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For the work we are enabled to do, and the truth we are permitted to learn; for whatever of good there has been in our past lives, and for all the hopes and aspirations which lead us on toward better things,
WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For the order and constancy of nature; for the beauty and bounty of the world; for day and night, summer and winter, seed-time and harvest; for the varied gifts of loveliness and use which every season brings,
WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For all the comforts and gladness of life; for our homes and all our home-blessings; for our friends and all pure pleasure; for the love, sympathy, and good will of men,
WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For all the blessings of civilization, wise government and legislation; for education, and all the privileges we enjoy through literature, science, and art; for the help and counsel of those who are wiser and better than ourselves,
WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For all true knowledge of thee and the world in which we live, and the life of truth and righteousness and divine communion to which thou hast called us; for prophets and apostles, and all earnest seekers after truth; for all lovers and helpers of mankind, and all godly and gifted men and women,
WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For the gift of thy Son Jesus Christ, and all the helps and hopes which are ours as his disciples; for the presence and inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, for all the ministries of thy truth and grace,
WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For communion with thee, the Father of our spirits; for the light and peace that are gained through trust and obedience, and the darkness and disquietude which befall us when we disobey thy laws and follow our lower desires and selfish passions,
WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For the desire and power to help others; for every opportunity of serving our generation according to thy will, and manifesting the grace of Christ to men,
WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For all the discipline of life; for the tasks and trials by which we are trained to patience, self-knowledge and self-conquest, and brought into closer sympathy with our suffering brethren; for troubles which have lifted us nearer to thee and drawn us into deeper fellowship with Jesus Christ,
WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For the sacred and tender ties which bind us to the unseen world; for the faith which dispels the shadows of earth, and fills the saddest and the last moments of life with the light of an immortal hope.
WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

God of all grace and love, we have praised thee with our lips; grant that we may praise thee also in consecrated and faithful lives. And may the words of our mouth and the meditations of our heart be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, our Strength and our Redeemer.
AMEN.

THANKSGIVING

Almighty God, our Heavenly Father, from whom cometh every good and perfect gift, we call to remembrance they loving-kindness and they tender mercies which have ever been od old, and with grateful hearts we would lift up to the the voice of our thanksgiving.

For all the gifts which thou has bestowed upon us; for the life that thou hast given us, and the world in which we life,
WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For the work we are enabled to do, and the truth we are permitted to learn; for whatever of good there has been in our past lives, and for all the hopes and aspirations which lead us on to better things,
WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For the order and constancy of nature; for the beauty and bounty of the world; for day and night, summer and winter, seed-time and harvest; for the varied gifts of loveliness and use which every season brings,
WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For all the comforts and gladness of life; for our homes and all our home-blessings; for our friends and all pure pleasure; for the love, sympathy, and good will of men,
WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For all the blessings of civilization, wise government and legislation; for education, and all the privileges we enjoy through literature, science, and art; for the help and counsel oj those who are wiser and better than ourselves,
WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For all true knowledge of thee and the world in which we live, and the life of truth and righteousness and divine communion to which thou hast called us; for prophets and apostles, and all earnest seekers after truth; for all lovers and helpers of mankind, and all godly and gifted men and women,
WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For the gift of thy Son Jesus Christ, and all the helps and hopes which are ours as his disciples; for the presence and inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, for all the ministries of thy truth and grace,
WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For communion with thee, the Father of our spirits; for the light and peace that are gained through trust and obedience, and the darkness and disquietude which befall us when we disobey thy laws and follow our lower desires and selfish passions,
WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For the desire and power to help others; for every opportunity of serving our generation according to thy will, and manifesting the face of Christ to men,
WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For all the discipline of life; for the tasks and trials by which we are ained to patience, self-knowledge and self-conquest, and brought into closer sympathy with our suffering brethren; for troubles which have lifted us nearer to thee and drawn us into deeper fellowship with Jesus Christ,
WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For the sacred and tender ties which bind us to the unseen world; for the faith which dispels the shadows of earth, and fills the saddest and the last moments of life with the light of an immortal hope,
WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

God all all grace and love, we have praised thee with our lips; grant that we may praise thee with also in consecrated and faithful lives. And may the words of our mouth and the meditations of our heart be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, our Strength and our Redeemer.

AMEN.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Are there no workhouses?



At least Ebenezer Scrooge was a fictional character; and Jonathan Swift was using satire to make a point.

I don't think Newt has an excuse:

Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich called child labor laws "stupid" Friday in an appearance at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

"It is tragic what we do in the poorest neighborhoods, entrapping children in, first of all, child laws, which are truly stupid," said the former House speaker, according to CNN. "Most of these schools ought to get rid of the unionized janitors, have one master janitor and pay local students to take care of the school. The kids would actually do work, they would have cash, they would have pride in the schools, they'd begin the process of rising."

"You're going to see from me extraordinarily radical proposals to fundamentally change the culture of poverty in America," he added.
You'll note the burden should fall on poor children, which puts Newt in league with Swift's narrator and Dicken's most famous character. Because what he actually says is that child labor laws should be means tested; the rich need not worry about putting their children to work. They are redeemed by the labor of their ancestors, no matter how many generations back it was. And along the way, Newt twists the word "tragic" into such a pretzel it literally no longer has any meaning. And "extraordinarily radical" apparently means the positions that made 19th century England such a shining example of compassion and enlightenment for centuries thereafter.

Shame still works, but not on our public figures. I'm not sure why that is.

Open your window and shout....


It occurs to me that the anger and animosity about the police response to the Occupy movement is misplaced; or at least, it should be. If the Dept of Homeland Security and the FBI are "conspiring" with mayors across the country to restore order to their cities, it means Occupy is doing it right. If Occupy members get arrested, it means Occupy is doing it right. If 84 year old women get pepper sprayed, it means they are doing it right.

The question is, does anybody know that?

You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city's white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.

In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self-purification; and direct action. We have gone through all of these steps in Birmingham. There can be no gainsaying the fact that racial injustice engulfs this community. Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States. Its ugly record of brutality is widely known. Negroes have experienced grossly unjust treatment in the courts. There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than in any other city in the nation. These are the hard, brutal facts of the case. On the basis of these conditions, Negro leaders sought to negotiate with the city fathers. But the latter consistently refused to engage in good-faith negotiation.

Then, last September, came the opportunity to talk with leaders of Birmingham's economic community. In the course of the negotiations, certain promises were made by the merchants–for example, to remove the stores' humiliating racial signs.On the basis of these promises, the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and the leaders of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights agreed to a moratorium on all demonstrations. As the weeks and months went by, we realized that we were the victims of a broken promise. A few signs, briefly removed, returned; the others remained.

As in so many past experiences, our hopes had been blasted, and the shadow of deep disappointment settled upon us. We had no alternative except to prepare for direct action, whereby we would present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and the national community. Mindful of the difficulties involved, we decided to undertake a process of self-purification. We began a series of workshops on nonviolence, and we repeatedly asked ourselves: "Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?" "Are you able to endure the ordeal of jail?" We decided to schedule our direct-action program for the Easter season, realizing that except for Christmas, this is the main shopping period of the year. Knowing that a strong economic-withdrawal program would be the by-product of direct action, we felt that this would be the best time to bring pressure to bear on the merchants for the needed change.

Then it occurred to us that Birmingham's mayoralty election was coming up in March, and we speedily decided to postpone action until after election day. When we discovered that the Commissioner of Police Safety, Eugene "Bull" Connor, had piled up enough votes to be in the run-off, we decided again to postpone action until the day after the run-off so that the demonstrations could not be used to cloud the issues. Like many others, we waited to see Mr. Connor defeated, and to this end we endured postponement after postponement. Having aided in this community need, we felt that our direct-action program could be delayed no longer.

You may well ask: "Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches and so forth? Isn't negotiation a better path?" You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks to so dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent-resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word "tension." I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood.

The purpose of our direct-action program is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation. I therefore concur with you in your call for negotiation. Too long has our beloved Southland been bogged down in a tragic effort to live in monologue rather than dialogue.
The Rev. Dr. King, yet again. It isn't simple, yet it is important. The idea of protests is either to disrupt; or it is to create "a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth." The latter, obviously, is more productive. The former, though, seems to have become the goal of the Occupy movement.

So, the choice is create a situation that opens the door to negotiation, or march, annoy people, and get arrested; alot. Which will just annoy people; alot. Martin Luther King started in December, 1955 with a bus boycott that lasted 382 days. It was 1964 before the Civil Rights Act was passed, 1965 before the Voting Rights Act was passed, and when King died he was leading marches for economic justice. But re-read the "Letter from Birmingham Jail," and you'll see King's focus never really shifted in 13 years of leading the movement. 13 years. And the Occupy movement expects to change things because they are pissed off at a few mayors and a federal government that is willing to help the mayors do what governments do: maintain public order?

I'm starting to lose interest in what the children are doing. David Graeber seems to think an anarchist vision that closely resembles a pure democracy will win the day. More and more I am not so sure. I don't seek a unifying vision so much as I seek a rational purpose. Disruption is not a purpose; it's a temper tantrum.

If there is no more purpose to the Occupy movement than that, then Charles Pierce is right, and this is the way the movement ends. Not with a bang, but with a shout: "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not gonna take it anymore!"

And we all know how far that movement went.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Xmas Time is here (already?)



"Look, Charlie, let's face it. We all know that Christmas is a big commercial racket. It's run by a big eastern syndicate, you know."

Kelly Groehler, a BestBuy spokeswoman, noted that CEO Brian Dunn, once a store employee himself, "fully appreciates" the feelings of Melaragni and others, adding that Dunn will miss much of the holiday himself as he helps stores in Minnesota gear up for Black Friday. In a statement on the matter, the company said, "This year, customers have told us -- and our competitors -- that they plan to shop on Thanksgiving Day, and earlier than ever on Black Friday. We therefore made the difficult decision to move our opening Black Friday to midnight. We know this decision changes Thanksgiving plans for some of our employees, and we empathize with those who are affected."
Frankly, I'm surprised we aren't hearing arguments about how opening at midnight on "Black Friday" will create jobs, or how eliminating holidays and weekends will "create jobs."

Seriously.

Apparently the stores could open at noon on Thanksgiving and people would still be lined up from closing time on Wednesday night. This phenomenon seems only to apply to malls and "big box" stores, though. I worked retail for years, and "Black Friday" at the small store I clerked for was always a quiet day. It seems everyone took family to the mall on Friday, to get them out of the house (thus do we entertain ourselves in America). Our regular customers came by on Saturday, or in December. But I've seen the earnest faces of people jamming stores to get "bargains" the moment the stores resumes sales after the Thanksgiving turkey is devoured, people who don't seem to have an extended family they want to get out of the house. I really don't understand it.

Why this isn't all seen as a War on Christmas, or even a War on Thanksgiving*, is beyond me. Best I can figure, we need to put the "Christ" back in Xmas because it's better marketing for everybody. The slogan alone is still good for billboards and bumper stickers, and those things don't grow on trees.

And yes, this year Christmas seemed to obliterate Thanksgiving entirely (the decorations are already up, the carols are already caroming from the speakers in the stores; that's been true for a week now. I even passed a house yesterday already festooned with Christmas lights and yard figurines and fake Xmas trees), and Hallowe'en became the new unofficial gateway to Xmas excess. Thanksgiving vanished in the rush to sleigh bells and fake snow and ceramic "villages." Do we really love Xmas this much? Or are the stores just desperate to balance their books before New Year's?

Since Christmas Day falls on a Sunday this year, I'm every curious to see what the most heavily marketed churches will do about Sunday being a "family holiday." If the past is any guide....


*which apparently has been going on for years. I had no idea.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Then v. Now


Now:

Cops are dragging kids away by the hair. They're whacking people around and then preventing medical personnel from responding to treat their wounds. The whole world is, indeed, watching. And it's trying to make up its minds.

It's easy for all of us to say that. We didn't get our heads cracked. We didn't get our belongings trashed. We didn't have our free library tossed gleefully into dumpsters. (An action which, to call it philistine, is to insult the cause for which Goliath gave his life.) We don't have the anger rising in us, except by proxy. Nevertheless, it can't end in images of bleeding cops and tossed barricades, and a CNN spokesmodel named Alison Kosik telling all of here at Gate 29 about how the brave brokers of her acquaintence have accepted these inconveniences as "business as usual." CNN is posing the members of the financial-services industry as the last gunners at Fort Zinderneuf. This is not good.

What I know is that John Lewis nearly got killed at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, and he never threw a punch back in anger. I empathize with the feelings of the people who have been subject to the ludicrous reaction of hyped-up cops with new military weaponry, and then subject to the contempt and condescension of a greasy little plutocrat like Michael Bloomberg. But this cannot be the way it ends. A few days of ghastly videos — and photos like those below — and out comes a new narrative that in a dozen different ways excuses the bloodletting and then minimizes it, while strangers wait for airplanes, silent applause in their eyes.
Then:

Then, last September, came the opportunity to talk with leaders of Birmingham's economic community. In the course of the negotiations, certain promises were made by the merchants--for example, to remove the stores' humiliating racial signs. On the basis of these promises, the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and the leaders of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights agreed to a moratorium on all demonstrations. As the weeks and months went by, we realized that we were the victims of a broken promise. A few signs, briefly removed, returned; the others remained. As in so many past experiences, our hopes had been blasted, and the shadow of deep disappointment settled upon us. We had no alternative except to prepare for direct action, whereby we would present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and the national community. Mindful of the difficulties involved, we decided to undertake a process of self purification. We began a series of workshops on nonviolence, and we repeatedly asked ourselves: "Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?" "Are you able to endure the ordeal of jail?" We decided to schedule our direct action program for the Easter season, realizing that except for Christmas, this is the main shopping period of the year. Knowing that a strong economic-withdrawal program would be the by product of direct action, we felt that this would be the best time to bring pressure to bear on the merchants for the needed change.
Written to:

"This response to a published statement by eight fellow clergymen from Alabama (Bishop C. C. J. Carpenter, Bishop Joseph A. Durick, Rabbi Hilton L. Grafman, Bishop Paul Hardin, Bishop Holan B. Harmon, the Reverend George M. Murray, the Reverend Edward V. Ramage and the Reverend Earl Stallings) was composed under somewhat constricting circumstances. Begun on the margins of the newspaper in which the statement appeared while I was in jail, the letter was continued on scraps of writing paper supplied by a friendly Negro trusty, and concluded on a pad my attorneys were eventually permitted to leave me. Although the text remains in substance unaltered, I have indulged in the author's prerogative of polishing it for publication."
There is a difference between then and now. But until people started seeing scenes of passive marches being rolled down the street by water cannons, being mauled by dogs, being beaten bloody by policemen, they didn't start to sympathize with Dr. King and the Movement. Dr. King understood this. Consider how he begins his famous letter:

MY DEAR FELLOW CLERGYMEN:

While confined here in the Birmingham City Jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities "unwise and untimely." Seldom do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas. If I sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would have little time for anything other than such correspondence in the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work. But since I feel that you are men of genuine goodwill and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I want to try to answer your statements in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.
Then think again about where he is when he is writing it.

I've used King's letter to teach rhetoric, to teach Aristotle's elements of argument, which are: ethos; logos; pathos; and kairos. Before you can even begin, Aristotle understood, the speaker must have a good ethos, a good ethic. A pedophile may make a perfectly sound argument, but who will give a pedophile the benefit of the doubt to listen? Dr. King understood this, which is why he downplays the fact that he's writing from jail. Today we canonize him; in 1963, he was considered a criminal and an "outside agitator."

Like Charles Pierce, I hope the Occupy movement doesn't end this way, but I'm afraid it will. The effort to be non-violent in the face of violence is a very deliberate effort. It is a religiously grounded effort, from Gandhi to King. Religion may not be a necessary concomitant of morality, but it can profoundly affect the morality people live by.

People will judge on what they see and what they think they understand. It's unfortunate if the Occupy movement doesn't better understand that.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Armistice Day 2011


It's funny how conservative you get over time. I've come to prefer "Armistice" to "Veteran's" to label the day, maybe because "Memorial Day" has been taken over as another day to have a spasm of declaring ourselves free because we resemble Rome (with its standing army) more than we resemble Athens (with its citizen soldiers called to battle only when the need arose).

Paths of Glory is the story for today. The story of a French general ordering a suicide charge by his own troops, and then issuing a order to shell his own troops to get them out their trenches and into the fusillade of machine gun fire that would surely cut them down like so many blades of grass.

That's the movie for today. "A voice says, 'Cry!" And I say: "What shall I cry? All flesh is grass...."

Which is the beautiful uncut hair of graves.

Call the names. Call the names. Call the names.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

The World is Too Much With Us


I have not been following the controversy over St. Paul's Cathedral in London as I should (Wounded Bird has been doing it admirably), and unfortunately as much of what I know is from BBC World Service (where I can never find links to what I hear, so I can't directly quote it here), but last night as I went to bed BBC was interviewing Simon Jenkins(?), who pointed out the Cathedral was a monument to power, not at all the kind of place Jesus would have wanted built, and it had an obligation to the poor. He mentioned that before the current Christopher Wren structure replaced it, the old St. Paul's had a special pulpit precisely for people to preach from or make speeches from, and that people gathered and argued and riots even broke out there, all in the name of free speech and democracy and airing grievances. So, he meant, there is a long tradition of the Church of England supporting the right of the common man to speak, and it was high time they returned to their senses and to that tradition, and paid attention to the poor rather than the powerful.

That, at least, is what I remember this morning.

Now the Archbishop of Canterbury has spoken:

Dr Rowan Williams said that the Church of England had a “proper interest in the ethics of the financial world” and warned that there had been “little visible change in banking practices” following the recession.

He urged David Cameron and George Osborne to drop their opposition to a European-wide tax on financial transactions, which is expected to be formally proposed by France and Germany at the G20 summit of world leaders starting tomorrow.

“The demands of the protesters have been vague. Many people are frustrated beyond measure at what they see as the disastrous effects of global capitalism; but it isn’t easy to say what we should do differently. It is time we tried to be more specific,” Dr Williams said.
On that last point I would say that perhaps we need, not more specifics within the context of the old discussion (a discussion which hasn't done so well for us in the past 30 years), not, in other words, to simply refine the old structures of inequality and unequal distribution, but to consider new styles of architecture, a change of heart. St. Paul's, as the guest (I'm still not certain of his name) said on BBC last night, is a structure designed to make you feel totally insignificant in the presence of God. At the same time, it's a building built by people with money, as an expression of their power. I doubt the building humbled them as much as it confirmed their exalted status and sense of their own self-worth (after all, to be able to command such a thing into being! It's almost a god-like power....). Maybe we need, Dr. Rowan, to consider the words of Mary when she heard her cousin's greeting; maybe we need to revive the concept of the Jubilee from the Law of Moses; or maybe we just need to dust off the savagely rejected and frequently savaged concepts of the liberation theologians. Maybe, in other words, we need to shift the discussion away from the awesome power of human society and how it is justly distributed, and towards a discussion simply about justice. At least for starters.

Or maybe it's just time to be a little more in the world, but a great deal less of the world:

First, the story. When the camp was originally pitched, over a fortnight ago, concerns were expressed about apparently critical issues of health and safety for staff and visitors to St Paul’s. The cathedral was precipitately closed for the first time since the Second World War. Mistake number one. When the health and safety report arrived after the first weekend, the Dean realised the issues were trivial and easily remedied with co-operative protesters.

Why the knee-jerk reaction? There was no one around the chapter table, other than the estimable Canon Giles Fraser, who would shortly fall on his sword, warning of the liabilities of embarking on particular policies. This would never happen in any other commercial or institutional organisation. So, mistake number two.

Mistake number three was down to naivety rather than indolence: St Paul’s allowed the City of London Corporation to call the shots. It moved into the common consciousness that to talk to the protesters would be to compromise the cathedral’s position. There was an unaired alternative view and it is this: no, it wouldn’t. The evidence for that is clear. Since those early days, the Church’s senior command has spoken regularly and publicly with the protesters, to productive effect.
The Rev. Pitcher lends a great deal of insight to this matter, but that is the internal affairs of the Church of England, and not being of that body, I leave the matter to them without further comment. I'm interested in the larger issue of the church in society, which this story points to. We have no equivalent to St. Paul's Cathedral in Jeffersonian America, nothing remotely approaching the Church of England in our history (the Pilgrims came here as castaways from that Church, if that tells you anything). In America, we get this:

Clergy emphasize they are participants in the aggressively leaderless movement, not people trying to co-opt it. Plus, in a movement that purports to represent the "99 percent" in society, the prominent religious groups are overwhelmingly liberal.

Religion might not fit into the movement seamlessly, but activist Dan Sieradski, who's helped organize Jewish services and events at Occupy Wall Street, said it must fit somewhere.

"We're a country full of religious people," he said. "Faith communities do need to be present and need to be welcomed in order for this to be an all-encompassing movement that embraces all sectors of society."
Part of the problem is the problem of evangelism:

She said some protesters are wary because they don't recognize the authority of institutions, including religious ones, and are generally looking for clergy to be "ministering but not proselytizing." She recalled a conversation with an Occupy Santa Cruz protester while a man in a clerical collar picked up trash.

"(The protester) said, 'That dude's here with us. He's not handing out pamphlets and trying to save me. He's picking up trash,'" Drescher said.
But part of the problem is the problem of "liberal" v. "conservative" churches:

Mark Tooley of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, an advocacy group for conservative mainline Protestants, said while Occupy Wall Street has succeeded in getting attention, it's limited because it's only attracting religious support from the left.

A call for government redistribution of wealth and reliance on street activism doesn't appeal to the swath of suburban churchgoers with conservative political and religious leanings, he said.

"It doesn't seem they put a lot of thought into expanding their support base beyond those who identify with 1960s-era protest action," he said.
Think Progress points out that this is: "one aspect of the 99 Percent Movement that has yet to be acknowledged by the mainstream media’s narrative: the growing support the protests are receiving from various faith groups and leaders around the country." And when they do point it out, our media can't help but frame it in the "horse race" narrative of politics. I don't think our clergy can't talk like Anglican clergy can; I think it's that they aren't allowed to in the national discourse. I mean, clearly American clergy can speak about the Gospels and justice:

One-sixth of all the words Jesus spoke, and one-third of all the parables, are about the dangers of wealth and possessions. It is something that we hear from the prophets — particularly of the Old Testament, and of course that’s what Jesus was steeped in, those were his scriptures — that any culture, but certainly one that claims to be Godly, is to be judged on how well the most vulnerable are treated.

It’s more than about numbers, and it’s more than about disparity of income. It’s really about our sense of community. And indeed, do the wealthy have a responsibility to the larger community? Are we really going to live in an “every man, woman and child for themselves” world, or are we going to be a community in which the greater good, the common good, is also a value that we hold?
But that's Bishop Gene Robinson at Think Progress, not Gene Robinson being interviewed by NPR. It's funny that people like Bill Maher, who really don't know very much, are allowed to inveigh against the hypocrisy of an American culture that claims to be godly; but American clergy can't get enough attention to point out what a "godly culture" should actually look like. Think Progress provides a host of links to stories about churches and clergy supporting the Occupy movement. Have you heard about it aside from stumbling across it on the Web? At least in England there is a public discussion going on about the responsibilities of the community to its members, to the least as well as the most powerful. At least in England, there are public resignations and public recantations of positions, and public reviews of attitudes, and religious leaders who take a “proper interest in the ethics of the financial world”. Judging by that NPR report, I suspect the "conservative" religious leaders in America would find such in interest an improper interference with "The Market." American religious leaders who do take such an interest are pretty much ignored.

The British are not a terribly religious people, and they aren't especially known for the spirituality of their culture. But it is clear that while they are so much like us in so many ways, good and bad, and while we are linked with them in our devotion to the "Anglo-Saxon" capitalism that the French and the European nations either deride or veer away from, our British cousins still have a thing or two to teach us about valuing people and examining our society and the ends we, as members of it, ought to pursue. I'm trying to imagine a secular entity in America which would be compelled to act because of the decisions of a major church building in America; and I just can't do it.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

"Death is the only experience that is not lived through."--Wittgenstein



It will seem silly to consider this in terms of the life of a cat; but it's the only lesson I have right now.

On Hallowe'en a cat that had been with us for 16 years, finally died. I say "finally" because, looking back, it is obvious the cat was in distress for a year or more. As he aged his personality changed, but it didn't really change until the last year. Before that, he was still a kitten, still as playful and anxious to play as he had ever been. He never grew old gracefully or settled into the role of alpha male among our three unrelated cats. He ruled them, but he remained the amiable kitten and most sociable feline I'd ever seen. Anyone who came to the house was greeted by him, and he insisted on having their attention; but he returned their attention with his affections, not his demands. That much slowly changed in the last 6 months of his life, or what turned out to be the last. He also gradually lost eyesight, from a cause we never determined. In the last weeks, he would walk into things, wander in circles, feel along walls with his whiskers and blunder into blind alleys made by walls and furniture, and seem bewildered.

His blood panels and physical exams showed everything was working normally; but in the last month of his life, he decayed so sharply it was clear something was going badly wrong. The first response was steroids and antibiotics, a course of treatment new to us though we have had cats for over thirty years now. The first two died without major medical intervention, both in old age (almost two decades ago, now). The first died of kidney failure, a sudden collapse that made euthanasia the only humane response. The second, his litter mate, died when he failed to get out of the way as I drove the car into the driveway (I still feel guilty about that). It was just as well, as we were moving and couldn't take them with us, and they were too old to be separated from us. The third died of a stroke, screaming in such sudden distress that euthanasia was again a relief. This spring we euthanized a fourth cat, with a tumor almost the size of his abdomen. The last died on the couch in his sleep on Hallowe'en. He was a black cat; somehow the date was fitting.

One week earlier, we'd taken him to the vet because he was in obvious distress; barely eating, barely drinking, and listless. Antibiotics and steroids were tried, a new course of treatment for us. He responded, and by the sixth day seemed almost back to his old self; not the kitten self he'd always been, but the old cat he'd recently become. On the seventh day, he'd collapsed again. On Hallowe'en, I came home at mid-day to find him in such distress I thought sure the only recourse was the needle.

But it was steroids, again; another try, another brave attempt. His heart and lungs were good, the blood panel had shown no problems. The cause was a mystery, but a mystery that could be solved with treatment. I took him home, and he lay on his side, mewing hoarsely and kicking his front legs. His back legs refused to move. He released is bladder and I cleaned it up, and then he slowly quieted. I decided to try the steroid pill, the high dosage wonder that was going to tell us if it was a brain tumor or brain inflammation he suffered from (a good response to this meant the latter, no response would mean the former). He wouldn't even swallow; he simply closed his eyes. I thought I'd killed him, but he opened his eyes which could barely see (he'd seem myopic to me, in his last days; able to see on that which was very close to him), and he sagged into sleep. He breathed raspingly, and we put him on the couch. Shortly, without even noticing it, he stopped breathing.

I have seen people die, and animals die. They do it the same way, sometimes with consciousness of what seems to be happening (yes, animals too), sometimes without. This death was a shock, because modern medicine had convinced me another injection would stave it off, would have an effect, would be enough this time. It wasn't, but who could know? Who could be sure? He seemed to rally at the vet's office, to show a strength I otherwise thought he had lost. But it was just the distress of being in a strange place; not even the blush on the cheek of the dying, it was the last energy he had.

"What if" haunts these situations. Once, when I still served a church, I was called to the hospital just down the street from the parsonage. I'd heard the ambulance, and with the phone call I knew it was one of "mine". In the emergency room I talked to the wife while her husband, having had a heart attack, was attended nearby. Then the doctor came in and told her there was undoubtedly extensive brain damage due to oxygen deprivation (he'd stopped breathing for a time), that his chances of recovery were slim, so: should they take him upstairs, or disconnect him now?

She turned to me (I can still see her), and asked: "What should I do?"

How to answer such a question? How to know?

In the end, she decided to send him upstairs. He died in the elevator, relieving us all of responsibility. I buried him a few days later, in a small town far from the church, where my memory is the funeral director greeting me with "Oh, you're one of those" when I pulled my robe bag from the trunk of the car.

But responsibility for the living, for not letting them join the silent majority of the dead; or responsibility for sending them along, whether we let them go or force their passage (there is really little difference): that is the issue where we gaze into the future even after the event is past, and wonder: "What if?"

For the cat, there was nothing we could do; but should we have tried? Should we have eschewed another set of pointless injections, an attempt at forcing pills down his throat? Should we have known better, perhaps just left him at home to die in familiar surroundings and such comfort as we could offer, rather than the terror and pain of moving him across town to the vet's office, and back again? He was silent with fear on the way there, mewing with pain and misery on the way back. Was it worth it? Was it wise? Was it the foolish desire for someone to confirm or confute what we thought we knew? Was it a desire for someone to know, someone who pretended to know, but really could only guess, as we could? When he finally died, we had to fight the feeling that he was just sleeping so deeply we couldn't be sure he wasn't breathing. We wanted the vet to confirm our diagnosis one last time. Had it been earlier in the day, we might have; but we had to wait until morning. By early night it was clear the body was growing cold, and finally stiff. There was no mistake then.

There was plenty of time for mistakes before that; but no need to worry about them after that.

This is, finally, what death is. Finality; the point where no more mistakes can be made, where no more uncertainty is faced. Death is the end of the future, of possibilities, of questions. The question of the dead is what to do with the body, but there are no more questions about what happens next for the loved one. There is nothing next for them. Now it is up to you. Now a new story begins, one that is without them.

It's not the same for a pet as it is for a person. For a person, the question can be: did we do enough? For a pet, the question can be: should we have stopped sooner? In the end, it doesn't matter. It is hard, however, to accept that.

Death is a finality, in a world where nothing is final. You will say to me "But you are a Christian, a pastor! How can you believe death is the end?" Because it is. It is as final as it was for the disciples at the tomb. What came next was not the logical extension of death, was not the mere slipping off the mortal coil to reveal the butterfly soul that could fly to heaven. It was something else altogether. I believe in the resurrection; perhaps even for pets. But the resurrection is not the next stage of dying; it is not the room to which death is the doorway. Death is a finality; but only for the one dying. For the rest of us, it is a hole which the world closes over, but which we, one way or another, do not. Even the resurrection will not fill that hole; only, in hope of the resurrection of the dead, unbreak it.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

All Saint's Day 2011



Revelation 7:9-17
7:9 After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.

7:10 They cried out in a loud voice, saying, "Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!"

7:11 And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God,

7:12 singing, "Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen."

7:13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, "Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?"

7:14 I said to him, "Sir, you are the one that knows." Then he said to me, "These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

7:15 For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.

7:16 They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat;

7:17 for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."

Psalm 34:1-10, 22
34:1 I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.

34:2 My soul makes its boast in the LORD; let the humble hear and be glad.

34:3 O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together.

34:4 I sought the LORD, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.

34:5 Look to him, and be radiant; so your faces shall never be ashamed.

34:6 This poor soul cried, and was heard by the LORD, and was saved from every trouble.

34:7 The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.

34:8 O taste and see that the LORD is good; happy are those who take refuge in him.

34:9 O fear the LORD, you his holy ones, for those who fear him have no want.

34:10 The young lions suffer want and hunger, but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.

34:22 The LORD redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.

1 John 3:1-3
3:1 See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.

3:2 Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.

3:3 And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

Matthew 5:1-12
5:1 When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him.

5:2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

5:3 "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

5:4 "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

5:5 "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

5:6 "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

5:7 "Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

5:8 "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

5:9 "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

5:10 "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

5:11 "Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.

5:12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.


In the German E&R church calendar, this would come not the day after Hallowe'en, but the Last Sunday of Pentecost, and they would observe it as Tötenfest.

Almighty and everlasting God, before whom stand the spirits of the living and the dead; Light of lights, Fountain of wisdom and goodness, who livest in all pure and humble and gracious souls.

For all who witnessed a good confession for thy glory and the welfare of the world; for patriarchs, prophets, and apostles; for the wise of every land and nation, and all teachers of mankind,

WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD, AND BLESS THY NAME.

For the martyrs of our holy faith, the faithful witnesses of Christ of whome the world was not worthy, and for all who have resisted falsehood and wrong unto suffering or death,

WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD, AND BLESS THY NAME.

For all who have labored and suffered for freedom, good government, just laws, and they sanctity of the home; and for all who have given their lives for their country,

WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD, AND BLESS THY NAME.

For all who have sought to bless men by their service and life, and to lighten the dark places of the earth,

WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD, AND BLESS THY NAME.

For those who have been tender and true and brave in all times and places, and for all who have been one with thee in the communion of Christ's spirit and in the strength of his love,

WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD, AND BLESS THY NAME.

For the dear friends and kindred, ministering in the spiritual world, whose faces we see no more, but whose love is with us for ever,

WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD, AND BLESS THY NAME.

For the teachers and companions of our childhood and yough, and for the members of our household of faith who worship thee in heaven,

WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD, AND BLESS THY NAME.

For the grace which was given to all these, and for the trust and hope in which they lived and died,

WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD, AND BLESS THY NAME.

And that we may hold them in continual remembrance, that the sanctity of their wisdom and goodness may rest upon our earthly days, and that we may prepare ourselves to follow them in their upward way,

WE BESEECH THEE TO HEAR US, O GOD.

That we may ever think of them as with thee, and be sure that where they are, there we may be also,

WE BESEECH THEE TO HEAR US, O GOD.

That we may have a hope beyond this world for all they children, even for wanderers who must be sought and brought home; that we may be comforted and sustained by the promise of a time when none shall be a stranger and an exile from thy kingdom and household;

WE BESEECH THEE TO HEAR US, O GOD.

In the communion of the Holy Spirit, with the faithful and the saints in heaven, with the redeemed in all ages, with our beloved who dwell in thy presence and peace, we, who still serve and suffer on earth, unite in ascribing:

THANKSGIVING, GLORY, HONOR, AND POWER UNTO THEE, O LORD OUR GOD.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,

AS IT WAS IN THE BEGINNING, IS NOW, AND EVER SHALL BE, WORLD WITHOUT END. AMEN.